Surveying the legal problems of the biggest NEPA changes in the past fifty years.
On June 5, President Biden signed the debt ceiling bill, which provides the first significant rewrite of NEPA since it was passed over fifty years ago. In a series of blog posts, I’ve explored some of the legal issues raised by the amendments. My goal has been highlighting problem areas rather than providing anything like …CONTINUE READING
The original understanding of an inalienable right.
What is the “pursuit of happiness,” which the Declaration of Independence says is an inalienable right? It sounds like this is about freedom from governmental restrictions on your activities. So, in modern terms, it seemed to mean that the government can’t stop you from “doing your own thing.” But that can’t be right. The Declaration …CONTINUE READING
Will the new NEPA provisions speed approval of urgently needed projects?
In terms of the energy transition, the most important question about the recent NEPA amendments is whether they streamline permitting for transmission projects. The answer is complicated. We can divide transmission projects into two groups. The first group consists of transmission projects where federal involvement is limited to specific segments, such as stream crossings requiring …CONTINUE READING
Delegating Environmental Reviews to Project Sponsors
One of the most important provisions, of the new NEPA law, § 107(f), allows the lead agency to delegate preparation of environmental reviews to project applicants. There are unsettled questions about when this provision applies and how it interfaces with other parts of NEPA. There are clear conflicts of interest in assigning this role to …CONTINUE READING
Sec. 107 is the key permitting reform applying to major projects. Will it work?
The 2023 Amendments to NEPA tweak current regulations in various ways in the name of permitting reform. Those changes make it easier to exempt smaller projects or cover them with programmatic impacts statements. The key issue, however, is going to be the effectiveness of new section 107, the main provision aimed at large-scale projects like …CONTINUE READING
Will the permitting sections of the debt ceiling bill undermine environmental reviews?
Prior to the release of the text of the debt ceiling bill Sunday night, press reports had mentioned only a couple of provisions relating to environmental impact statements. It turns out there’s a lot more. The bill would make numerous changes in the statute governing impact statements, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). …CONTINUE READING
The Navajo Nation Has the Equities on Its Side, But the U.S. Department of the Interior May Well Have the Law in Its Favor
Today the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the last natural resources cases on its docket this Term: Arizona v. Navajo Nation and U.S. Department of the Interior v. Navajo Nation. These consolidated cases are consequential for several reasons: to determine the scope of the federal government’s trust obligations to Native American tribes; to …CONTINUE READING
ConocoPhillips has existing lease rights. But the Biden administration had tools to curtail those rights to limit harms.
Although the Biden administration has approved the Willow oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope—the largest proposed oil drilling on U.S. public land in several decades—the legal questions are far from settled. Much of the media coverage so far has focused on the political dynamics driving the decision (as noted with some alarm here and …CONTINUE READING
Climate Change, Water Rights, Environmental Justice & Federalism Issues Highlighted the Ninth Circuit’s Prodigious Environmental Docket This Year
I’ve shared in previous posts my view that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is–after the U.S. Supreme Court–the most influential court in the nation when it comes to environmental and natural resources law. That’s true for two related reasons: first, the sprawling Ninth Circuit encompasses nine different states (including California) and …CONTINUE READING
A proposed rule limiting flaring and venting of natural gas is a win for everyone except greedy oil and gas operators.
Yesterday, the Interior Department posted a proposed rule to limit flaring and venting of natural gas on public lands. The rule will be good for everyone except the oil and gas operators who waste the gas, increasing methane and carbon emissions while giving the public nothing in return. The rule is clearly a step in …CONTINUE READING